Speaking retail across borders

By Patrick Gorman

Iam en Eŭropo, ni ĉiuj kuraĝiĝis paroli Esperanton.

Or, if that doesn’t make sense: Once upon a time in Europe, we were all encouraged to speak Esperanto.

It was written by a Polish ophthalmologist in 1887, whose aim was to create an easy, flexible and universal second language to foster world peace.

The word esperanto translates into English as “one who hopes” – and the language did grow during the 20th century, with a nomination for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999. While it’s estimated that about two million people speak the language, the majority of the world’s population, some 7.8 billion people, do not – one reason perhaps why world peace hasn’t yet happened.

But if Esperanto has yet to fulfil its potential, there is another global language spoken by most: Retail

It is, in a practical sense, a real language because it has to communicate, and be understood, across national borders and potentially connect with people in every corner of the world.

First some statistics.  According to Insider Intelligence, total retail sales in Western Europe fell by 3.6% in 2020, to €3.616 trillion, although it’s hoped that sales will bounce back this year. However, largely because of lockdown restrictions, retail e-commerce sales in Western Europe jumped by 26.3% in 2020, to €481.54 billion. If we can’t go to the shops, the shops must come to us.

It’s all about right space, right place, with retailers engaging with customers wherever they are.  Beyond that, it’s about offering a first-class, safe, convenient, and affordable shopping experience if they are to maintain the loyalty of existing customers and attract new ones.

Establishing a global e-commerce platform is no longer at the fringes of corporate ambition.  For many retailers, it is a new language that is now central to success.

For example, a study from eShopWorld (ESW), a cross-border e-commerce provider, and reported by Forbes, found that nearly 70% of global consumers made cross-border e-commerce purchases in 2020.

It’s an interesting trend, with online shoppers increasingly turning to websites outside their own country to either find better prices or goods that they can’t readily buy locally. Tech-savvy retailers have responded by creating localised and frictionless shopping experiences in each international market where they sell.

That means providing information in multiple languages, quoting price, shipping and tariff costs in local currencies, and having country-by-country fulfilment, delivery and returns policies.  That last aspect is important with, for example, up to 60% return rates in online apparel.

According to ESW’s survey findings, millennials are the highest spenders when it comes to cross border e-commerce, although other demographics won’t be far behind.  The online evidence is that, where millennials lead, others will follow – and, if retailers get it right and give shoppers a digital language that is easy to understand, everyone else will surely follow.

It’s a nuanced language that even the most innovative retailers are having to learn.  For example, the UK retail giant John Lewis said last month that there had been a “decade of changes in shopping habits in one year.”

John Lewis has maintained sales volumes, with the retailer transferring lost High Street sales to its online platforms, but with an inevitable closure of physical shops.  It predicts that 70% of sales will be online from 2025.

But John Lewis also judges that, pre-2020, £6 in every £10 spent on its websites was driven by its shops.   In other words, shoppers browsed, chose items that they wanted, but then bought them online.  Now, with limited or no browsing options, it’s what a shopper can see online that counts.

It used to be down to webrooming and showrooming.  The former is when consumers browse products online before visiting a store to purchase.  Showrooming works in reverse, with consumers browsing in a physical shop before purchasing online.

However, window shopping online has inevitably become part of the new normal, and there’s research that shows that online window shopping (or ‘e-browsing’) can provide the same kind of hedonic experience as physical browsing.

One company which has recognised that reality is Ralph Lauren.  It teamed up with Snapchat to create virtual versions of real outfits for avatars. Users can virtually browse Ralph Lauren outfits and purchase the clothing within the app. It therefore allows customers to try on clothes before making a purchase – taking e-browsing to another level.

The new digital experience encompasses a consumer’s initial contact with a brand through order fulfilment and beyond.  It starts with engagement and, with out-of-home advertising inevitably of less value, social media has become of particular importance.

According to a recent study, nearly 90% of consumers will buy products from a brand they follow on social media. This survey also found that when consumers follow a brand on a social platform, 75% will increase their spending with that brand.

It means that in the new retail normal, brands will increasingly have to engage with, and present information to, a worldwide audience who will increasingly expect a localised service.  In other words, 2020 has brought with it the imperative of a new kind of online joined-up thinking.

Thinking out-of-the-box and developing an end-to-end sales strategy extends through to customer service and providing knowledgeable and helpful CX to customers from, potentially, a mix of countries, speaking multiple languages and from a range of demographics. That, in turn, is where a Customer Experience Management (CXM) partner is invaluable, as their resources and capability support cross-border consumers with the same user experience regardless of the country in which they made the purchase.

Many retailers have, of course, improved the customer e-commerce experience – everything from shortened delivery times, updating product descriptions on web pages, to developing CX programmes that transform buyers into brand advocates.

So, unlike Esperanto, retail is a language we all speak very well! Brands that innovate to provide a seamless, informative online experience are pretas sukcesi.*

For more information on how SYKES can support your CX Retail Strategy, please get in touch!

* poised to succeed

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Posted on

April 20, 2021

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